PR help wanted: freelance, interim or independent PR consultant?

Did you arrive here looking for freelance public relations help? If so, you may be in the wrong place. But before you click back to Google hold on a little while longer. I want to explain what a freelance PR professional is, how they can help you (or not) and why you might actually need an interim contractor or an independent consultant instead. There’s more to this than just semantics.

Freelancers

Generally speaking, these people are fairly junior, ‘coal face’ workers. So if you know exactly what you need but don’t have the resource and are free to give direction, then a freelancer might be the right choice. Just don’t expect too much in the way of challenge or strategic insight. A few have actively chosen to be career freelancers – they prefer the variety, flexibility and freedom of freelancing. But some are reluctant, ‘stop-gap’ freelancers: they want a permanent role and freelancing is what they’re doing in the meantime. Find out which camp the person you are considering falls into, because you could be dropped like a stone if their ideal job comes along. Also, they may not be able to offer full commitment to your needs, either because they only work part-time, have multiple existing roles or some other outside responsibilities.

Interim PR contractor

These people are usually more senior in terms of age and experience. Interims may be PR generalists – those who can handle a bit of everything with grace – or domain specialists in areas like investor relations, crisis management or internal communications. They usually carry out specific, time-limited projects which could be one-offs (like change, transformation or takeover projects) or business-as-usual in nature. Is it better to choose someone with a string of contracts on their C.V.? Usually yes, but always remember this is simply an indicator and not a guarantee of success in their next role. For more on this, see point no. 4 in this article.

A good interim will often want to interrogate the brief and your assessment of the current situation before they start work. If they don’t raise this at the first meeting, take it one of two ways: your assessment and brief are perfect (trust me, they won’t be); they don’t know what questions to ask or are too timid to do so. If you find they’ve done a great job and they like you too, you might  tempt them with a permanent role. But don’t be surprised if they decline; many are motivated by constantly doing something new, somewhere new. A lot will depend on their personal circumstances, the right culture fit and the learning and development possibilities on offer.

Independent PR consultant

This cohort is almost exclusively senior level. They may be ‘over-qualified’ for the task in hand but the added value could be a great reason to hire them: they should need no supervision, they will produce results quickly and they pass on knowledge to more junior people in your organisation. Don’t interview them like you would a job candidate; you should be planning to have a business-to-business contract discussion. They will usually be trading as a limited company and be VAT registered, with their own website or blog. Unlike the above types, people in this group may not be known to recruitment firms. They may compete directly or indirectly with PR agencies and offer excellent value by comparison, depending on what you need.

Some have formally established themselves as associates with one or two agencies to help out in times of squeezed resources. They are almost never looking for a job. The fact they have no career aspirations with your firm could be a terrific advantage over the other two groups in terms of objective advice. This group is generally looking to stay working with you only for as long as they’re needed.

Understanding the different cadres of what many buyers group together as ‘freelancers’ is important. It reduces the possibilities of making the wrong choice and increases the likelihood that your PR resourcing requirements are met or exceeded. Public Relations is a buoyant sector, currently growing somewhere between 7 and 11 percent, year on year. There has always been a talent shortage and growth like this means it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

If you’re still not certain what kind of help you need, you can also read my more detailed post about these differences over on the B2B Marketing website. And, of course, if you want further advice or to talk about a public relations challenge at your firm, do let me know via the contact page.

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